Unexpected India… Be Prepared

I spent sixteen days visiting New Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, and Gwalior on my first trip to India. Each city offered unique attractions and a way of life that surprised me. Here are a few things I didn’t expect but had to deal with.

You Are in The Moment in India

There is no time to contemplate the universe while dealing with India’s sights, sounds, and confusion. If you don’t pay attention, you will get hurt. And there’s no calling a lawyer or finding someone to feel sorry for you.

In India, Daily life is a constant struggle. There is no time to think about how you got wronged or poor me. You have to think about what’s happening here and now. Because there’s always a car coming or someone who wants to make you a deal, sell you something. Or give you a ride.

And the major tourist attractions can be dangerous places. Open walls two stories high or an open Jacuzzi on a palace floor invite the next idiot to trip and get hurt. It’s just a way of life for tourists and locals. If they waited to idiot-proof everything, nothing would ever open to visitors.

A quick stroll down the block will be littered with potholes, death traps, and cow shit. It’s your job to make sure you survive your journey.

Horrific Traffic and Constant Horns

I visited three crowded cities. And the roads look like they were reconstructed years ago. So they’re packed, side to side, with cars, Tuktuks, and an occasional horse or camel-drawn trailer. Traffic lights are around but are often ignored, even where they exist. If it’s your first time visiting, it will look like a jumbled mass of confusion, but somehow it works.

You will hear constant horns if you ride in a taxi, Uber, or Tuk-tuk. It’s like the only thing you need for a vehicle in India is an engine, a steering wheel, and a horn. And you use your horn more than your steering wheel. After about ten days, it was driving me up the wall.

You beep your horn to change lanes or when you’re about to cut someone off. Then they beep their horn because you just cut them off. You can be ten cars away from a traffic light; the instant it changes, people beep their horns. The traffic comes to a stop, and you beep your horn. It’s a non-stop horrid symphony of car horns throughout the day.

Crossing a Street Is Like a Video Game… You Could Get Crushed

The first time you have to cross a street in India, you will probably step back and watch how the locals do it. Then you will realize it’s kind of a free-for-all. People cross the roads where they want, when, and how they want. They find a small gap or make a small gap and go for it.

And this is the technique I use most often. Sometimes, I just headed into open traffic, let a few bikes or cars pass, and then crossed the other half of the street. You need to learn to do this to get anywhere in a major city in India.

I never saw anyone get hit by a vehicle, but there have been a few close calls for me. And no billboards are littering the roadsides advertising local ambulance chasers who want you to get the justice you deserve. If you get hurt, you are on your own.

Cows and Cow Shit.

Just like an episode of National Geographic about India and their sacred cows, you see them wandering the towns and cities. You can find them on the sides of roads, in the middle of streets, sidewalks, medians, and tourist areas. They roam free and do as they like.

And that means they shit where they want. And no one follows them around and picks up their crap. They drop landmines wherever and whenever they like. It’s your responsibility to avoid the cow chips. You’ll deal with the aftermath if you don’t watch where you step.

You’ll see cows rummaging through piles of garbage, eating roadside plants, and being fed grain. Although I’m not used to walking next to cows on busy streets in the States, the cows here don’t seem to bother anyone and often look as dazed as I do walking through the mass of humanity.

People Feed Pigeons

It’s a thing. Vendors sell pie tins with bird seed, and people buy them and feed the pigeons to bring good karma, which means that flocks of pigeons gather in certain areas of town. They do as they wish and drop bombs whenever they want. Talk about karma.

Garbage Piles

When you think about developing infrastructure for a billion people, you would believe that garbage and sanitation should be the primary concerns. Unfortunately, it’s not. You’ll only see garbage cans or dumpsters if you are in a five-star hotel area.

Instead, you’ll see piles of garbage placed in a single spot on the sides of streets. It’s not a designated spot; it’s just a spot where people decide to throw their garbage. And some days, you’ll see poorer people sorting through the trash for pick-up.

Somebody Always Wants to Give You a Ride.

Almost every day when I walked around, I carried a backpack. And this was an invitation to drivers that I was going somewhere and would probably want a ride. So, on almost every street I walked down, Tuk-tuk drivers pulled beside me and offered me a ride.

Often, drivers were persistent and annoying. Sir, excuse me, was a standard calling card used as their opening pitch. Sir, sir, sir, they would repeat if you acknowledged them in any way or said no thanks; they considered it an open invitation to start hounding you.

By far, the town of Agra was the worst. Tuk-tuk drivers would walk next to me and talk to me when I walked down a street. Whether I said no or nothing, they just kept at my side for a couple hundred feet. And when they left, another driver would pull up, and it would start all over again.

Once, I sat down on a bench across the street from my hotel, and a driver pulled up, got out of his Tuk-tuk, sat next to me, and started pitching me for a ride. I just wanted to relax for a few minutes, but it was useless.

And arriving at a train station was another experience altogether. When you get off a train, a driver will be ready to grab your luggage and take you to their vehicle. It’s like they have dibs on you. They claim you as their target and, with laser-like focus, won’t let you out of their sights.

And again, Agra was the worst. Before the train stopped, drivers were pounding on the windows to get your attention. They said: I call, I get the fat old guy. I felt like I was getting assaulted with nowhere to hide.

And the poor, unsuspecting travelers arriving on the train for the first time just thought this was okay. They let the drivers take their luggage and thought they were being helpful. Little did they realize they might get taken for a ride.

Until next time, enjoy life’s journey.

Joseph OBrien

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